Getting real, real fast: The pros and cons of family communal living

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Rosie Gard

living as a family commune

My home consists of my husband, my two youngest daughters, their husband and boyfriend, my eighteen-month-old granddaughter, three cats, two dogs, a 75-gallon fish tank, and a lizard. We have cohabitated for a year to become the "village" for my granddaughter. This past year was an amazing one that brought me much happiness and fulfillment.

However, there is always a funny spin on each of our days together as we all live under the same roof. Here are some thoughts on the pros and cons of our communal living situation…

Cons

  1. Intense interaction with family more than you will ever want or need again.
  2. If you don't know each other intimately yet, then you will soon. Needless to say, everyone knows everything.
  3. Parking issues get real, real fast.
  4. You will eventually come to impasses, such as: no one is cooking, no one is buying groceries, people are writing their name on their food and putting it in the fridge…
  5. We have all watched the Baby channel until we have all skits memorized.

Pros

  1. It saves money.
  2. Wonderful bond with my granddaughter as we were here for all her "firsts."
  3. Family meals are wonderful.
  4. We all know we can never get this time back and have all loved being together.
  5. We have been here to see our daughter and her husband bond with their baby and have loved watching them be parents.
  6. We got to know our children as adults living with adults.

We will all take this year with us as an experience like no other. It truly is about the love for each other.

Any other people living the commune lifestyle, either with family or friends? What are YOUR pros and cons of communal living?

  1. Hi, I would have loved to have read more about your experiences, as my husband and I are facing a very similar situation, about to have our first child, my parents have offered for us to live with them. For example- this seems like a temporary arrangement- was that intentional or necessary? If you could add more I personally would be very grateful!

  2. I've been living w my inlaws for a year and a half, not by choice, and a lot of this rings true. The cons of always being in each other's space, knowing everything going on all the time, is the worst. With my two kids and everyone's work schedules there's always an ongoing dance of who's where and when, who's picking up who, etc. Constant honest communication is key.

  3. I live with husband, my parents, and my aunt. When my sister comes home from college breaks, she lives with us as well. Having some boundaries is a must, but this has been an invaluable experience to save while in grad school and for my husband to bond with my family. It was definitely a learning experience for him, but my family has lived in a multifamily household situation since I began high school when we moved in with my grandmother.

  4. I live with my fiancé, our 2 children, my fiancés parents, my fiancés Grandmother and my fiancés uncle. We've lived here nearly two years. My pros & cons are very different from this list. Lol. I LOVE to cook & cook meals for my family nearly every night. However, my fiancés Grandmother raised like 7 kids & cooked every night when she had kids. While I have a thought out meal plan every week she cooks sporadically, so some nights 2 dinners get made & I have to bump elbows with her in the kitchen.
    We've also found that my fiancés parents tend to give us their opinions on the kids, whether we want them or not.
    Our kids tend to get confused because I'm the polar opposite of a helicopter parent & my fiancés Mother was a helicopter parent when he was a child & still is with our kids which really gets exhausting. And frustrating.
    To be honest our living here is probably ruining my fiancés family for me because I can only think of 1 pro & that is that his parents don't mind babysitting when we need a night out or in the event of an emergency, for example: I had to go to the emergency room a few months ago & my fiancé was free to take me & not worry about what we'd do with the kids.
    There are other issues that are personality issues, financial issues & more that add to the difficulty here. I could write a book on the problems we have here. Tbh.

  5. My husband and I lived with my parents for four years while we saved for a house. Mostly it worked out well, we were able to do a small renovation in their basement so that we had a fairly separate living and bedroom space but we still shared a kitchen and spent time with them in the main part of the house.
    My parents are amazingly generous people and I am so grateful for their help. They are total troopers, they now hosting my sister and her husband while they save for a house.

    Pros: It gave us a chance to save for a house. My husband is kind of Aspie so it gave my parents a chance to get to know him better and understand his quirks.
    Cons: So many adults living in one house can be a huge challenge to keep everyone happy and a general lack of privacy.

  6. My husband, myself, my sister and her fiance have all lived with my mother in her condo at some point. For them it was to save up to go backpacking around Europe and to save up for an apartment afterwards. For us it was a place to crash until we found a job in Korea and after we got back until we could find jobs and a car. Now the four of us (me, my husband, my sister and her fiance) own a duplex and live semi-communally. We have separate houses but they're joined so we see each other a lot, have dinner together frequently, and up until just recently my sister's fiance shared my basement studio as his home office. My mother also owns an apartment complex nearby and uses my house as her office. Things can get tricky when you're sharing space with someone who is used to being the adult and the one in charge, but now you're an adult too. I actually was thinking of submitting a house tour, but haven't gotten around to cleaning the studio enough to take a decent picture.

  7. Just this past fall, I moved in with my boyfriend, his brother and nephew, (and occasionally niece) and other roommate. Primarily for finances, but also company, as I still don't know many people here.

    It's a way smaller house than is ideal for the situation, but aside from the other (non-related) roommate being a shady asshole, it's working out okay. We take turns buying food. Bf and I handle the cooking during the week, usually, and BIL usually makes something big on weekends. Since I'm still looking for a job, I'm kind of the maid, but the brothers are good about picking up their messes, so it's usually just dishes, vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom.

    If we could get rid of the shady one in the back bedroom, then things would be much better, but that's not my decision to make.

  8. I lived with my parents and various siblings for about nine years as a single parent. Pros: we always have a lot of fun together when we are gathered in one place so there were a lot of lively dinners and spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen. Cons: My mom tends to be a bit intrusive and full of unsolicited advise and gets pretty worked up if you don't follow it, so there was a lot of doing things her way instead of mine, including some aspects of raising my kid. I'm pretty darn happy to be out, let me tell you, but I really enjoyed most of my time there, too.

  9. We lived with my in-laws for a few months after we moved back to the city and had trouble finding a rental. My parents-in-law were very accommodating and my MIL loved having her grandson in the house. But my SILs are 6 and 8 years younger than me, in their early 20s, and were a huge source of stress and anxiety. Especially the older one who is a very strong woman. Not that that's a bad thing, but she's not particularly kind or gracious either. Things that the rest of the family tolerates often left me in tears and we don't communicate very well at the best of times. Both of us stick to safe subjects when conversing. But she just adores her nephew, so that's something we have in common!

    Our circumstance meant that we just moved in temporarily, but weeks turned into months without any renting applications being successful. We paid board, I cooked 4 nights a week and did my share of chores (and my husband's share as he works full time and I'm a SAHM). We lived in the 1 bedroom, despite there being another spare and my son sleeping better in his own room (so none of us slept well at night).

    I would live with my parents-in-law again if our circumstances necessitated, but my relationship with my sisters-in-law is FAR improved having been out of the shared house for 6+months. There's NO WAY I'm going to live with them ever again. NEVER EVER!! And now that our house has finished being built and we are in and settled, hopefully there won't be a need.

  10. I have been hoping someone would post about their communal living situation! We bought a "family house" last year – four names on the mortgage – with myself, my husband, my husband's brother and the brother-in-law's wife. When we first moved in both my husband's sister (18) and my brother (25) lived with us and my brother still lives with us now. My brother- and sister-in-law just had their first child last month – so it has been quite the year! The baby's grandmother also stayed with us for a month after the baby was born and will be coming back to live with us over the summer and provide child care while my SIL goes back to work. I have found that when it gets to above 5 adult humans in the house it gets to start feeling crowded. Even though we have plenty of space (over 6,000 sq. ft) just that amount of adult energy fills it up pretty fast. I'm glad warmer weather is here and it is more enticing to escape to the outdoors when you can't deal with your homies for one second longer.

    Agree with all the pros and cons on your list – especially how awesome family dinner is. I am so excited to watch our nephew grow up and be part of his life. It can be overwhelming and make you feel a little trapped when you are generally a pretty independent person to realize that the next X number of years are tied to these people you have chosen to cohabit with. Definitely more overwhelming to me than transitioning to being a married person.

    No major disagreements so far and fingers crossed for more years of smooth sailing. It will be interesting to see how we navigate our first Family House Civil War.

    I would love to talk to anyone else who is cohabiting or practicing small scale communal living with persons of your same generation, rather than cross-generational. I think many of the same issues carry over and then each type of arrangement has its own unique challenges as well. Well wishes to all the other expanded family households out there.

  11. My husband and I often move out of the country, and it's very helpful to be able to move in with our parents when we need a place to be for a few months. It can be difficult, not least because it's hard to get out of old patterns of living together from when we were growing up. Neither of my siblings have had to move back in yet, but then, they didn't graduate from college in the middle of the worst economy in almost 100 years!

    I have been doing genealogical research while we waited for a visa to work in China. I found that until about one-two generations ago, every single family in my ancestral tree lived communally. At least three generations under one roof, and usually a couple of boarders in the mix. Every census, since censuses began being made. Communal living was almost always the norm in the past.

  12. I am going through a divorce right now and moved back in with my mom and step-dad, and his teenage daughter. The advantage of not paying rent/mortgage is huge, and alleviates the stress of finding "shelter" while I figure out my life and where I'm going to end up. The house is pretty large so we don't get in each other's business too much, and it's nice to not be alone while my emotional life is in turmoil. Sharing a bathroom with a teenage girl is….challenging.

    I was discussing the idea of communal living with my brother's long-term girlfriend. They are moving to a city about an hour away for her new job, and it's a place I hope to end up eventually as well. We talked about buying a house together, the three of us, and how that would work out. I really like communal living and I feel like if we found a house with the right layout, we could alleviate some of the cons (privacy, etc). The pros for me are more than worth it (I'm not really big on privacy anyway, to be honest!) We would all get more house for the money, and both of us are thinking of having only one kid, so it would be nice for the cousins to grow up like siblings. I'm excited to explore this idea further!

  13. My husband and I moved in with his brother on very short notice. The house is owned by their parents, and we assumed that BIL had been told that it could be for several months (NEVER ASSUME). Welp, we moved across the country and about a day after we'd moved in (before our stuff had even arrived) BIL asked when we were going to look for our own place…Add to that the fact that our stuff stayed in storage for 2 years because he didn't want to move any of "his" stuff (that turned out to be the parents' stuff – he left it all behind when he moved out) and the fact that he had about 90% of the (quite large) house…well, it was a very stressful situation. On the other hand, after that we moved back across the country and moved in with my sister in law and it was delightful. She was one of the easiest "roommates" I've ever had, and it allowed us to build stronger friendships (it was also the first time we'd spent more than a couple days with her since we'd all become adults). She is now one of my best friends, and is over at our house several times a week now that we've moved out.

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